Cardinal Wuerl blesses rosaries at an Oct. 16 Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of Most Holy Rosary Parish in Upper Marlboro. Assisting him is altar server Daniel Clark.
CS PHOTO BY DAPHNE STUBBOLO Cardinal Wuerl blesses rosaries at an Oct. 16 Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of Most Holy Rosary Parish in Upper Marlboro. Assisting him is altar server Daniel Clark.
With a special gift at the end of the 50th anniversary Mass for Most Holy Rosary Parish in Upper Marlboro, that faith community expressed gratitude for the past and hope for the future.

After Communion, Steve Proctor, the chair of the parish’s finance committee, announced to Cardinal Donald Wuerl that Most Holy Rosary was donating $25,000 to the Archdiocese of Washington to support the training of its seminarians.  He noted that the parish’s 50th anniversary coincided with the cardinal’s golden jubilee as a priest, and knowing the cardinal’s support of the priesthood and fostering vocations, parishioners thought that would be a perfect gift.

A giant-sized check was shown to the cardinal, who expressed gratitude for the parish’s generosity, and noted that the money would go toward the archdiocese’s Saint John Paul II Seminary for the training of future priests who will serve at Most Holy Rosary and the other parishes of the archdiocese. The cardinal noted that the seminary, which he founded in 2011, is full. The archdiocese now has 71 seminarians studying for the priesthood, including 26 of the 47 seminarians at Saint John Paul II Seminary, which also houses future priests from six other dioceses across the country.

“The celebration was not just looking back over 50 years, but also looking forward well into the future and an opportunity to thank God for both possibilities,” Cardinal Wuerl said afterward.

The Mass also included special citations from the state of Maryland congratulating the parish, from Gov. Larry Hogan, the Maryland State Senate and House of Delegates, presented by State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (District 27-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s counties) and Del. Joseph Vallario Jr. (District 23B, Prince George’s County).

Father Roger Soley welcomed the cardinal and parishioners to the Oct. 16 anniversary Mass at the parish’s St. Joseph Center, which was followed by a lunch there. The centerpieces at the tables included the phrase, “Together we make a family,” and that reflected the spirit of the gathering and the 250 people in attendance.

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl paid tribute to the roots of faith of that parish community, which traces its beginnings to Boone’s Chapel, which was established in 1710, and a mission church in Upper Marlboro that began in 1859. Most Holy Rosary was established as a parish in 1966. The parish’s wooden church on the corner of Rosaryville Road and Route 301 had its cornerstone laid in 1859, and after a tornado destroyed that church in 1927, members of that faith community helped rebuild it.

The cardinal commended the Most Holy Rosary parishioners for “50 years of fidelity to our identity as members of God’s family.”

The diverse parish community of different ages and backgrounds held hands as they prayed the Our Father. After Communion, the cardinal blessed rosaries which were given out to parishioners as a commemorative gift. He noted that was especially fitting for Most Holy Rosary Parish, which marked its anniversary in October, the month of the rosary. The cardinal encouraged them to join Mary in uniting their minds and hearts with Jesus’s joys, sorrows and glories as they pray the rosary.

Before and after the Mass, Most Holy Rosary parishioners told the Catholic Standard about the special spirit of their faith community.

Proctor, a 52-year-old government lobbyist who grew up and received his First Communion there, noted, “This is truly a wonderful community of everyone coming together.”

That point was echoed by Alvin Turner, a retired manager for Pepco, who sat and leaned on his cane and noted how black and white parishioners pray and socialize together, and are there for each other. “The white and black community know no difference. It’s a classic example of how integration is supposed to work,” he said.

Father J. Isidore Dixon, who grew up on a Charles County farm and served as pastor at Most Holy Rosary for 14 years before becoming the Catholic chaplain at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, said, “They’re my kind of people, country people.”

Don Retzlaff, a parishioner for 46 years, agreed. “I live one-quarter mile from here. It’s small and it’s close, and you get to know everybody. It’s still country here,” said the retired U.S. Army aviator, who with his wife Lorraine raised four children there.

Proctor noted how his grandfather, Valette Proctor, a government worker and farmer, joined other parishioners in helping raise the steeple on the rebuilt church.  “It’s a very loving and giving church,” he said, noting how parishioners today operate a food pantry and give holiday baskets to poor members of their community.

His grandfather mowed the grass around the church, rectory and cemetery until he was in his mid-90s, and Proctor said that now he and his sons continue that service to their parish. “It means everything” for his family to continue that legacy, he said. “We’re all very blessed, and it’s extremely important that you give back.”

Gladys Newman Benton also spoke about that legacy of giving at the parish.

“My father helped rebuild the church,” said Benton, who is 88. She noted that her father, William Leonard Newman – a farmer who grew tobacco, corn and wheat – helped dig out the basement of the church with a scoop pulled by horses. To this day, she is filled with a sense of pride and happiness when “I look out at that little church.”

She said her dad and her mother, Mamie Newman, helped out at many church picnics and dances over the years. Benton continued that tradition, teaching CCD classes and helping prepare children to receive First Holy Communion there, and also volunteering with the Sodality and altar society.

Before the anniversary Mass, Arminta Donovan had helped arrange yellow chrysanthemums around the altar, and she has ordered and arranged flowers for the church for the past 30 years. “It’s an honor and a privilege,” she said.

Her friend and fellow parishioner Roberta Roper noted, “We know each other and support each other, spiritually, physically and in every way.”

John Ferguson, a retired Department of Defense worker, said, “We’re a small church. Everybody’s close. We were called ‘the hugging church’ at one time. It’s like your immediate family. Everybody knows you.”

The parishioners at the anniversary Mass and lunch included Patrick and Mickaelle Pierre-Louis with their 14-year-old son Cedric. They are high school sweethearts from Haiti and raised their son and college-aged daughter in the parish.

“Our whole family was welcomed as if we were members forever. Everybody pitches in, it’s a big family,” said Mickaelle who works as a branch manager for a credit union.

Her husband is a technology coordinator for the Prince George’s County School System. He noted, “Here you can feel the faith at work. Everybody is looking out for one another.”

Thelma Trinidad, who works as a media specialist at nearby Melwood Elementary School, moved to the United States from her native Philippines in 2008 and joined Most Holy Rosary Parish the next year. Father Soley blessed her house when she moved to the area. “I feel I’m at home here,” she said.

As he joined parishioners at lunch, Father Soley summarized his feelings about the 900 people, including 300 families, who call Most Holy Rosary Parish home. “They’re good people,” he said.